The air embargo leveled against Iraq is perhaps more symbolic than anything, but it definitely underscores the international isolationism of the country and its president, Saddam Hussein.

In a 14-1 vote, the U.N. Security Council further tightened sanctions against Baghdad for its Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait.Since the invasion, the council has passed nine resolutions condemning Iraq's use of force and demanding the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Iraqi troops from its oil-rich neighbor in the Persian Gulf.

In voting for the air embargo - only Cuba cast a ballot against the action - the council agreed to expand its economic embargo to include air traffic in and out of Iraq and Kuwait, except for cargoes of humanitarian aid specifically authorized by its sanctions committee. It also calls on U.N.-member nations to detain any Iraqi ships that may be used to break the naval embargo.

Of increasing interest is the Soviet Union's continued and growing support of the United States in its stand against Saddam Hussein. That is causing increased Iraq hostility toward its former friend and ally.

It's difficult to realize now that during the Cold War standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union that Iraq was a chief Middle East ally of Moscow, the main arms supplier to Saddam's military.

But the Russians, who have backed the U.N. embargoes from the outset of confrontations with Iraq, are beginning to sound more like American cheerleaders all the time.

Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze has given President Bush unusual support. He has not only blasted Saddam as a terrorist, but suggested his seizure of Kuwait might warrant a war crimes trial. And, as one might suspect, that has heightened the rhetoric spilling from the Arab leader.

The Soviet minister also raised the prospect of U.N. military action against Iraq if economic sanctions fail to force Saddam out of Kuwait.

The air embargo does provide more chances for error, overreaction and miscalculation in enforcing its provisions.

An official with the Center for Strategic and International Studies says that if either side were to seek a reason for war, the provocation could easily be found thousands of feet in the air, where it's difficult to determine exactly what happened.

But that's no reason to back away from putting more international pressure on Iraq.